What’s in a name? How UW’s improved name-changing policy helped me when the government wouldn’t

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Growing up, I never really thought much about the name my parents gave me.

I was annoyed that many other people shared the same first name, thought my middle name was weird, and my last name hard to pronounce, but never really dwelled on it or considered that they could be changed.

As I grew up, I also outgrew my name. I spent a lot of time learning about the world and myself, eventually discovering that I was non-binary and trans.

With that discovery came the realization that I no longer felt comfortable with my old name as it felt connected to the gender I was assigned at birth.

So, I began the very long process of finding a name that would make me feel more comfortable.

After hours of scouring babynames.com, I made a list of names that I liked, then spent months trying to ignore that list.

Eventually, I decided that a new name was essential to my well being and decided to try out the name “Emerson” while in safe spaces.

I spent the whole day smiling with delight the first time someone used my new name.

A few months later, I decided I wanted to be able to use my preferred name with professors and on exams while still getting credit for my work.

I asked my academic advisor for help and he directed me to the school’s change of name form that, without any legal name change, would allow professors to see my preferred name next to my legal name.

I loved being able to write my name on things, but everything I received still had my deadname on it (the name I was given at birth).

Making the issue even worse was the fact that I had also changed my middle and last names.

Using my deadname made me feel upset because it’s just not me, and having other people use it felt like they were insisting I was someone I’m not.

On the other hand, hearing the name I’ve chosen makes me feel safe and happy and whole. It means more to me than I could ever express with words.

The last straw for me was an online course with a lot of discussions on LEARN, and realizing that everyone would see my deadname, and probably refer to me that way too.

So I decided to try to change my name again, as I had heard there was a new and improved form that would change my name on most things around the university.

I found the form online, printed it off, and brought it to The Centre to make an official declaration of my name change.

All in all, the process took me about 30 minutes, and by the end of it, my name was fully updated on Quest.

By the next day, my Learn account was also updated, and a few days later, I was able to have my WatCard replaced with one with my proper name on it.

As soon as I saw each of these updates, I excitedly showed my friends while grinning like an idiot.

Before, I would always feel stressed logging into LEARN or using my WatCard, but now I feel a rush of happiness every time I see my name, because that’s me.

It’s honestly such a validating experience.

The difference between the first time I filled out the form and this time was huge and meant the world to me.

While I know there are some changes that still need to be made (and are in progress) for students with preferred names to have proper access to resources around campus, the change is already making a big difference in my life.

Using my preferred (read real) name improves my mental health significantly, and increases my sense of safety on campus as I am less scared of being harassed about my name usage or for being trans.

All in all, I am so grateful that the University of Waterloo has decided to expand how students can use preferred names with the school.

I hope they continue to make these changes to improve life for all students around campus.